Now that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is available for purchase on Blu-ray, it’s time to re-examine what’s ended up being the most divisive installment in the space opera’s saga to date. Not only that, but while some will always hold a candle for The Empire Strikes Back, it’s worth considering, even accepting, that The Last Jedi as a truly unique, visceral, heartbreaking, and utterly brilliant Star Wars film.
When I spoke to Rian Johnson during SXSW, the writer/director of The Last Jedi mostly laughed off the criticisms that a vocal minority of angry, entitled fanboys lavished onto the eighth episode of the Skywalker Saga. “The fact that it’s triggered everything from extreme love to extreme hate maybe means we did something right,” he said, which came off less like a defense of his storytelling choices and more like a definitive statement on the work he’d done.
So, for those of you still in doubt, here’s why The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars movie we’ve gotten so far.
It Introduced Creatures On Par With The Classic Trilogy
Well, creature, technically. Unless you want to count the Fathiers and those sparkly dog/fox/things that lived on Crait — which I do. Anyway, even with Porgs alone, Johnson has created a Star Wars creature that holds its own against every Jawa, Ugnaught, Mynock, and Ewok that the classic trilogy can dole out. And really, try to remember any cutesy, or even memorable, creature from the prequel trilogy. You can’t, can you?
(Okay, fine, a Veractyl. But I only know that because Revenge of the Sith was on cable this week.)
It Managed To (Successfully) Incorporate The Legacy, And Aesthetic, Of The Prequels
Not only do we have Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) scoffing at the Jedi legacy by talking about how they let Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid), better known as Emperor Palpatine, eliminate them to the point of near-extinction at the height of their power, the scene at the Canto Bight casino had the clean, polished look and feel of something straight out of Attack Of The Clones. What’s more impressive is that it did so without feeling out of place at all. Like it or not, the prequels will always be part of Star Wars, and The Last Jedi was able to remind us of that without making it sting.
It Was Somehow Even Better On The Second Viewing
When looking at the entire Star Wars film canon, they’re probably the most rewatched films in history (unless you’re talking about my uncle and American Graffiti, but that’s beside the point). While rewatching anything from the classic trilogy is the equivalent of binge-eating, occasionally finding new tidbits or, more often, egregious plotholes, the prequel trilogy is done mostly out of a kind of seething hate watch, where we marvel at how poorly executed they were on a whole.
With The Last Jedi, however, the first watch was usually taken as a mishmash of feelings. From the devastating opening battle, which ended with Leia (Carrie Fisher) using The Force in a Mary Poppins-esque way to save herself from certain death, a shirtless Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), to a seemingly bloated subplot where Poe (Oscar Isaac) declares mutiny and tries to commandeer the increasingly shrinking rebel fleet. It isn’t until the second viewing, however, that these reservations all fade away, resulting in a heartbreaking, visceral, all-around devastating experience that dared to take Star Wars into unexplored territory — and succeeded.
It Subverted Expectations Of Not Just Star Wars, But What How We See Its Heroes And Villains
Speaking to that last point, as the world waited in anticipation for J.J. Abrams’ relaunching of the space opera with 2015’s The Force Awakens, what we got was a fine, even genuinely great, reheating of 1977’s A New Hope. Starting off on a desert planet, it threw all the protagonists together in the Millennium Falcon where they reluctantly band together to save the day and blow up a giant space station. And they’re all driven to do so because, in Finn’s (John Boyega) words, “It’s the right thing to do.”
Even Rey herself, as I’ve pointed out before, is a total personification of a Star Wars fan, a lonely kid who grew up isolated, even living inside a broken down AT-AT, with only the stories of Han Solo, the smuggler-turned-General and Luke Skywalker, the great and fearless Jedi Master who brought the Empire crumbling to its knees, to keep her going.
Likewise, Kylo Ren was little more than a warmed-over Darth Vader, donning a mask and all-black garb to emulate the Sith Lord who single-handedly brought the galaxy to his knees. He even tries to call out to the burned remains of Vader’s mask desperate to find ways to step out of his shadow and become a better bad guy himself.
Two years later, The Last Jedi couldn’t have distanced itself further from 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back if it tried. While it effectively shit on all the conspiracies that fanboys had labored to concoct in those 24 months (Rey is Obi Wan’s granddaughter, Snoke is a clone of Palpatine, Rey is Luke’s daughter, Poe is Rey’s brother, Kylo Ren is Rey’s Brother, Snoke is Mace Windu, and so on), it didn’t do so deliberately. Mostly because it didn’t need to. It was, arguably, more of a side effect of Johnson going into the saga with fresh eyes — and more importantly, fresh ideas.
Instead of placating, or even acknowledging, all these aimless theories that fans wanted so much to be true, Johnson told a story that was wholly original that challenged how we cast Star Wars‘ heroes and villains. Rey (Daisey Ridley) is desperately seeking guidance, and instead of finding it in Luke Skywalker, she finds him consumed with his own bitterness. She does, however, find it in the least-likely of places: Kylo Ren.
Together, their Force-connected conversations create a sense of intimacy that was largely absent from any Star Wars movie that preceded it, and resulted in a stunningly complex rounding out of the new trilogy’s most compelling characters. Rey’s parents? Simple paupers who in no way factor in to her place in the galaxy’s new conflict. Kylo’s mask? Shattered against a wall after being mocked by his master, Snoke — a character who was elevated by such intrigue and mystery in The Force Awakens that it was nothing short of jaw-dropping when he was unceremoniously sliced in half. And it made The Last Jedi all the better for it. In fact, it all helped to make The Last Jedi the best Star Wars movie.
Finally: It Gave Us This GIF
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is now available to own on Blu-ray.